“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
― Dr. Seuss
A tidal wave of emotions has swept me away regarding publishing my memoir, Pieces of Me.
First, it started with a simple post. Last month I went on my author fan page on Facebook and mentioned my book’s publication date (September 20, 2016!) next to its cover image.
I thought it would reach a couple of hundred people. It did, and then they shared the post too. When all was said and done, nearly 6,000 people had seen of it, and so many privately and publicly commented to me. Friends remembered with me my daughters’ abduction and the community’s recovery efforts. Many friends and family members assured me that they couldn’t wait to read the book. These were nicest comments that a normal person would be happy to read.
But, the comments didn’t land with a normal person. They landed with me.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed. Would my work live up to the reader’s standards? Did I remember to include the story about X? Am I too honest in the story? Not honest enough?
And then I got my long-awaited round of edits back from just as I was taking time off work to take care of a few routine health and home issues. Perfect timing! Soon, I realized that she edited an older draft of my manuscript given to her by someone on my work team.
Again, pretty small potatoes. Unless you’re the one tasked with adding back all of the name changes and other details, and you have severely limited computer skills. I was devastated.
I reached out to a friend about it. “I’m a firm believer in timing,” she responded. “Things will work out just as they are intended.”
And they did. As I spent the next few days scrolling, page by page, through 300 plus pages, I was reminded of what brave people stepped up to help when I needed it. I was also reminded of what a great editor I am working with, who caught not only my grammatical but mathematical errors and did some back fact-checking about Greece and other things. And as I saw what ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, I was reminded of the most important thing about memoir writing.
Pieces of Me is not the story of my life. It’s about a slice of my life, the process of rescuing my kidnapped daughters. It covers snippets of my childhood as a kidnapped child. Not the whole childhood, just the parts that propel the story.
I went to see Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot this weekend, a terrific film made based on the memoir of journalist Kim Barker. There were a lot of artistic liberties taken in the making of the film. In an interview about the movie, Barker spoke openly about her decision to not make herself nuts by tracking the details of the movie once she’d signed her rights away. She was pleased that the important themes and relationships were captured in the final product. That the movie captured the essence of important relationships and themes was critical, and she refused to get caught up in the minutiae she couldn’t control.
So cheers to my insecurities and to timing and to the process glitches. And thank you to my well-wishers, supporters, and future readers. This has been a wonderful reminder that indeed, I am not alone.
Thanks always for stopping by.
Today is winter solstice, the longest and darkest day of the year. Nowhere is it felt more powerfully than here in Alaska, near the top of the world.
I’ve spent years loathing this time of year, which regrettably falls right on the holidays. This has been an especially great year for me, and I’m more than a little sad to say goodbye to it.
Do you ever look back at the things you were most grateful for before the New Year? Doing that, rather than making lots of resolutions, has been a boost.
So for the chart toppers on my 2015 gratitude list—
- Facebook helped me to reconnect with two young men I knew and loved as children, and I missed them after their dad and I broke up fifteen years ago. So what a surprise to hear from them, and to have them back in the fold.
- My family reunion in Kentucky and Indiana is always a hit. I have eleven siblings, plus aunts and uncles and cousins, and see most of them ever two years. I actually rented a car and drove on an interstate for the first time. Yay, me! And learned my anxieties are too strong to repeat that effort.
- I loved spending time with my grown girls last January in Mexico. It’s rare that our schedules sync any longer for vacationing, and our trip was filled with sun, silliness, and no family irritations.
- rs when I make the journey. This time, I was able to see my old dear friends in Ohio and squash 30 years of catch-up in the space of a couple of days.
- I adore traveling alone, and this October, I zipped over to Australia for a long-planned trip. What I didn’t plan was getting ill on the way over. I chit-chatted with an Aussie couple at my layover in Los Angeles, and they invited me to train over to see them the following weekend. When that weekend came, I was sicker still and wondering if they’d hate me for bringing sickness to their door. It turned out, the wife was a medical doctor. I got the best treatment and company and hopefully, lifelong friendships. I met a new friend, artist Will Stackhouse at a train station, and spent time with several other Aussie friends I’d made over my years of traveling.
- And then there’s my book. My baby! Pieces of Me is due on September 20, 2016 for publication with She Writes Press.
My year, probably like yours, was also filled with normal life stuff. Disease and car accidents, unexpected expenses and unexpected losses. But on rewind, it was still a banner year.
So goodbye 2015, and thank you endlessly for the new and the old connections.
And I do resolve to stop slouching in 2016!
What are you grateful for today? Leave a comment below.
It had been thirty years to the day since I met my father, a fact I mused only when I boarded the plane to see our shared kin in early June.
I got to see my dad less than a handful of times before he died in 1995 after we were separated by a parental abduction in the late sixties. And in all that time, I’m pretty sure he’d said less than 400 words total to me. Then he was gone.
From our first meeting, I could tell my questions about him would remain unanswered. My father was old. Worn. Tired. Mostly silent.
Who are you? Who were your parents? Why so many marriages, so many kids, so much chaos? And why didn’t you look for me?
Dad, then on the verge of his seventieth birthday, was content to sit in the corner of the room, slumped in his chair, mouth slack, intermittently lost in thought or slumber. He filled in some gaps for me, like why he hit my mother so long ago, how sorry he was for it, and how no one has the right to hurt another person. He injected humor to conversations around him whenever possible. There was a time after my father died that I gave in to a sense of hopelessness. Now I’ll never get to know him sort of thing. And then I got caught up in the chaos of my own making and lost track of my new family altogether.
Ten years ago, I committed to make the journey from Alaska to Kentucky to visit family on my dad’s side every other year, and I’ve held to it. And with each trip, I’ve had the chance to get to know my dad just a little bit more each time through his family’s eyes. Conversations with his siblings. His first wife. With my siblings. And now, many trips later, I feel like I’m coming to know him.
I learned that my father was a different person between his first marriage and the second, and different still when he created a third family, so although I have six siblings by my dad, we all had different fathers.
And there are some interesting facts I’ve learned that helped shape him.
My dad was born almost 100 years ago in a small home in rural Kentucky to a teen mom and her husband. The oldest of the eleven children who survived toddler-hood, he lived through some rough times, including the Depression, and likely absorbed a lot of the violence and unrest in the home as older children do. I’ve learned that he married young the first time, and that fidelity in a marriage came to him later.
I’ve learned that despite being forced to quit school in the fifth grade, my father was whip-smart and hard-working, which helped him survive the rough terrain of marriage and remarriages, accepting his wives brood in to his life while subsequently losing track of the children from the just-ended union. I learned that my father served in World War II, and became a machinist for the government and a business owner.
I’ve learned that my father’s father was no prince. On a visit to my grandfather’s grave, a complete stranger approached me at the cemetery and told me that he still remembers when my grandfather got mad at his farm pig and sewed his eyes shut to punish him.
If a man sewed the eyes of a pig shut for disobedience, what do you think he’d do to his oldest son?
I learned that my father was a respected brother and loyal son to his mother. I learned that he was committed to evolving over his life time, and became a faithful husband to his final wife, an involved church member, and a gentler version of his former self to his younger children.
We didn’t have much time together, but my dad left me a lot. I inherited his brown eyes and the ability to get a suntan in nanoseconds compared to my friends. I inherited a host of cousins and siblings and aunts and uncles. I’ve inherited dad’s quick temper, his dislike for holidays, and his belief in redemption.
I’ve got a few friends with missing loved ones who tell me they can’t relate to my need to connect with missing family. “Too much trouble. I’ve heard bad things about my missing family,” or “What good with knowing my missing family do me now that I’m grown?”
And while I can’t say it’s a good thing for every person to find their missing family members, I can say this; every time I return back to my small life in Alaska from visiting my dad’s side, I carry a little less baggage and bank a few more cherished memories with family.
My goal over the next couple of years is to connect with some of my mom’s extended family.
Who’s missing from your life? What’s stopping you from finding them? Leave a comment below.
Thanks always for dropping by.
If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.–African proverb
I like going fast, and I’m a huge fan of traveling alone, but when a dear friend invited my little family to use her empty condominium in Manzanillo, Mexico cost-free, I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t traveled with my grown daughters in almost ten years. This was a golden opportunity.
We planned to cook meals at the condominium to stay on budget and to stay healthy. The biggest splurge would be on the jungle horseback riding trip I’d buy the girls for a belated Christmas present. I made the brilliant decision to book it online, using a company with great reviews on trip advisor.
What possibly could go wrong?
That online transaction completely cleaned out my bank account. The phone number and email address for the company didn’t work, and the windstorms interrupted my phone connection repeatedly so that I couldn’t make a thorough report to my bank or authorities for three days. Once my complaint got through, all access to my funds were cut off until the matter could be sorted out.
No such luck.
After the initial shock, I made the conscious decision to not let ruin our time together. And you know what? It turned out to be the best trip ever.
Here’s are my secrets to enjoying unexpected extreme cheap skate travel.
Keep great company.
I felt like I got to know my daughters in a new way, and without distractions. No television. No radio. No internet. It turns out, they’re wonderful travelers, picking up language quickly, trying any and all food available, tipping generously, and rolling with the unexpected. They were attentive and considerate, and adorable enough to net us a great table everywhere we went.
I read seven, including Dominick Dunne’s Justice, Comedy Writing 4 Life by John Vorhaus, Family Furnishings by Alice Munro, and Far Outside the Ordinary by Prissy Elrod to name a few. The sun and balcony became good friends to me.
Embrace the added exercise when forgoing taxis for long walks.
Exercise sharpens the mind, and gave me time for candid talks with my daughters, and time to sort out my thoughts when I walked or swam alone.
I returned to Alaska having strengthened my relationships with my daughters, exercised, read, and slept better than I have in ages. It was like I’d gone to a poor person’s spa. There was no horse on my snowy lawn when I got home, but there was a renewed excitement to lead my pedestrian life.
Not too shabby, I’d say.
What are your tips for enjoying budget travel? Leave a comment below.
I have mentioned before that Swimming with Maya is one of my favorite memoirs ever, so I was ecstatic when Eleanor Vincent agreed to be interviewed. Thank you, Ms. Vincent!
As I lift May’s still warm and pliable fingers in mine, the instinctive mother’s recognition of her child’s body takes over. I slide my right hand under her shoulder and gaze down at her serene young face.
Reverend Margaret leans over her. “Maya, this is your graduation from life on earth. You are going on to a school far greater than U.C.L.A. We release you with all of our love and blessings.” She looks at me from across the white mound of sheets covering Maya’s body. “Can you let her go, Mom?”
–-excerpt from Swimming with Maya, Published by Dream of Things.
Swimming with Maya is a beautiful account of the loss of your daughter, as well as the long path towards healing which was aided by meeting the recipients of her donated organs. How did you know when the right time was for you to begin writing this story?
In this instance, I had no choice. I had to begin immediately. Maya’s death was such a shock that I needed to write about it to make it real, and begin to process the loss. What I wrote in the two to three years after her death became the foundation for the book, but I used very little of the actual writing. It took me 10 years to create a story that would be a compelling read.
How did you come up with the title Swimming with Maya?
It only came to me at the very end when I was writing the dream about swimming with Maya – it seemed like a perfect metaphor for how we continue to weave into each other’s lives in a very fluid way. I think Maya’s message to me in the dream was that what we think of as “the other side” is actually very close to us, and that those we love can communicate with us even when they are no longer in physical bodies. So water had special meaning and is a thematic element throughout the book.
Writing a memoir can become an unfortunate info dump. Not everyone can survive what you have and detach enough to write scenes as though they were occurring in real-time. Do you have tips for writers who don’t share your gift?
Writing memoir is a learned skill, and one that requires you to detach enough to be a character in your own story, as well as a narrator. It is essential that the narrator knows and understands more than the character. I learned a lot from Vivian Gornick’s book The Situation and The Story. After I read it during the final years of drafting the book, I was able to go back and revise accordingly. As the author, it’s vital to no longer be shocked or astonished by your own story. It took me many years to reach that point. I guess my advice to others would be patience and studying the craft of writing.
What was the greatest help while writing this story? Did you have a critiquing group or editor or another source of support and inspiration that was key in your success?
I was working on an MFA in creative writing at the time Maya died, so that program at Mills College was very instrumental in giving me the support and the craft knowledge (and practice) I needed to succeed. I also had a wonderful writing group in the last years of the writing, and reader critique was essential to the process. In addition, I had a writing partner, Sarah Scott Davis to whom the book is dedicated. I emailed Sarah chapters as I completed them and every Saturday morning we’d talk by phone and she’d give me her feedback and offer support. As I was completing the final revisions, Sarah spent a few afternoons with me and we spread the manuscript out on the floor, chapter by chapter, and worked on the final polishing.
Was there ever a time when you were writing this book that the writing stalled, or did it flow pretty easily once you were able to begin the process?
I stalled out countless times. I had to stop and grieve. I was raising my younger daughter Meghan at the time, and working at a full-time corporate editing job, so my time was very limited. Once Meghan left for college, I was able to focus more, and buckle down and get it done – but it still took several more years to complete.
Swimming with Maya has been a New York Times e-book bestseller twice! Congratulations! What has been the most effective way that you’ve found to market your memoir?
My publisher Mike O’Mary at Dream of Things is very savvy about using newsletters targeted to e-reader users. So Mike placed ads with those publications and I supported his efforts with a Facebook author page, my website, and a blog tour. Most of our sales have been in the e-book format.
I heard in a podcast that you finally got your book published, and the publisher went belly up. Please tell us a bit about that, and how you proceeded to keep your story alive.
Capital Books, the original publisher, brought out a beautiful hardback edition of the book in 2004. They kept the book in print until they went out of business early in 2011. At that point, I looked at several options. The Author’s Guild has a “back in print” program but formatting is very limited. I considered self-publishing but felt I’d rather focus my energies on writing and that I needed technical and marketing support. A dear friend, Madeline Sharples, had recently published her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, with Dream of Things. She introduced me to Mike and he was very enthusiastic about Swimming with Maya. We brought out an updated edition in paperback and e-book early in 2013. I was very lucky to find a publisher with Mike’s level of commitment and skill to reissue the book.
What are you working on currently?
I’m currently working on a treatment for a screenplay of Swimming with Maya. I’d like to see the book adapted and made into a movie. Writing for film is very different from narrative nonfiction writing, so I’ve taken several classes and am now working with a screenwriting consultant to polish the draft. I also have a completed draft of a book about my time living in a co-housing community – a hilarious and poignant disaster – that I’m currently working on turning into a novel. Fictionalizing it will give me more freedom to amp up the drama. So I’m in a learning curve with that project, too. I like to learn new things and challenge myself to expand my skills. I’ve been writing professionally for four decades and I feel like there is so much more to learn.
Swimming with Maya can be purchased on Amazon or at Dream of Things.
Fifty years old! Yikes! Can you imagine?
What do you think you will be doing on your 50th birthday? Or if you are 50 or older, what did you do on that big day?
Traditionally, I spend birthdays reflecting on what I’ve accomplished over the past year.
I stayed away from that this year. I’ve let so much of my identity become wrapped up in what I get done on my list that on days where I don’t, I get anxious.
The truth is, we’re not owed any time, and 50 is a respectable age to have survived. And if you’d asked me at 20 what I’d be doing at 50, I’m not so sure I would have thought my 50-year-old self would be doing as well as I am indeed doing.
Could I have guessed I would have finished college myself and secured a fulfilling job with people I enjoy working with?
Might I have imagined at 20 that the friends I met in grade school would be with me as I reached the half-decade mark?
Yes, in some ways, my life turned out much better than I dared have hoped.
So yesterday, I threw myself a fairly impromptu party with my best girlfriends. I grabbed a cake at Costco, and we all met on a Sunday afternoon at 3 at a downtown bungalow.
It was magical. And instead of focusing on what I want to accomplish for the next year, I thought instead about how pleased I am to have solid connections. It’s been my friends who’ve helped raise me so that I was fit for a family.
If I have a hope for the future, it is this: I hope for my daughters that they too can have long-lasting positive friendships. And I hope for me that I remember to take the bull by the horns and go for the things I want so much.
Like writing. Love. Like travel.
50 is a wonderful milestone. What are your ideas for making fifty nifty?
Some people have all the luck.
I met him in the dorm cafeteria at Western Washington University in the fall of 1982. You could tell he was fun by how he held himself. Wearing a pinstriped, button up shirt with grey parachute pants and a matching fedora covering his curly brown hair, Mike had a nose that can only be described as a Karl Malden knockoff. (For those of you who are too young to know who Karl Malden is, click the link.) And he seemed so very comfortable in his own skin.
I went to college thanks to decent grades and a decent interest rate on student loans. Born of two high school dropouts, there wasn’t a lot of role- modeling or planning for a higher education.
Mike, on the other hand, seemed to ooze money. After we became friends, he was the first to offer to pay for pizza. Coffee? Mike bought a round for all of us. He must be loaded, I thought.
He explained it simply. “I was born with a lot of health problems, and no one expected me to live, so I’ve inherited a lot of money at different times.”
Score! All I could think was how great it must be to go on vacations. Buy a new car. Go to college perhaps debt-free. (I know none of this to be true about my friend, but these were my youthful assumptions.)
Of course, back then my young mind just processed Mike’s words in relation to what I’d never experienced. I didn’t give much thought to what it would be like to have a life that began with incurable and debilitating medical issues. That all became clear with time.
What I could see was that although Mike’s scoliosis made him look and walk differently, he was never self-conscious. Mike loved performing. He did air band at talent-shows (known as lip-syncing to other people’s music today). Every day, Mike happily escorted my roommate Erin and I to meals, studied with us, and showered us with attention. He went to church with us, and always impressed me with his abiding faith, which was much more about unconditional love and compassion than excluding others who were different or didn’t follow the rules.
When Mike inherited a caboodle of money two years after we met, he asked me to go to Switzerland with him (“I’ll pay!”) to visit a mutual friend attending college there. I said no. I thought he should invest his money for the future, and I wanted no part of the indebtedness I would feel if he gifted me with such a luxury.
Did he invest or save his money? Absolutely not. And within a year, it was all gone.
This worried me endlessly. Where would Mike live? What if he couldn’t work some day? What if bad opportunists took advantage of him? Mike seemed unconcerned, but I worried enough for the both of us.
Given that he was a few years older than me, Mike finished college sooner. We said our tearful goodbyes after I turned twenty, quit school, and found my real dad through a lawyer.I moved back to Alaska. Mike couldn’t find work with his degree in marine biology, and settle for one as an elevator man in Seattle while I married the first man who showed interest in me in Alaska and had two daughters in rapid succession.
It’s funny, the things that you remember later. Most of us in college felt we would definitely meet someone to love us and settle down with. Mike hoped for love, but had no air of entitlement about it. Love wasn’t a definite.
We stayed in sporadic contact. These were the pre-Facebook, pre-cell phone days, after all. The days when a husband bent on controlling his wife’s social interactions were made easy by the absence of technology.
After my husband tried to wring the air out of my neck, Mike let me and the girls stay with him for a few days in Seattle. And then the matters of life separated me from my buddy. I became consumed in legal matters, my daughters’ eventual abduction, and finishing college.
Mike’s issues were at least as critical. After serving as a missionary in Kenya, he landed a teaching job in the Dominican Republic. He suffered many health setbacks and professional disappointments, but he kept pushing forward.
When we communicated by written letter or occasional phone call, I tried not to ask whether or not he’d met a woman. Mike was at times discouraged, but always funny, and always sure of one thing. “I think God has a plan for me,” he would say with conviction. I couldn’t help but believe him.
It was New Years of 2012 when I last saw Mike during a long layover I had in Seattle. We’d connected through Facebook, and he was recently married at fifty years of age. Mike and his bride picked me up in his pick-up truck. One of the doors was smashed in his truck, forcing us to all cram in on one side. Mike was unemployed and looking for work. I would have been crushed at the setbacks. Mike never looked happier. And as always, he was making jokes about his job loss on Facebook.
A beloved teaching job would come after a forced move across the state. But love had arrived, and Mike and his wife lived out loud, recording their joy in their Facebook posts, taking endless selfies, and making the most of every opportunity to demonstrate love.
Mike passed away when I was out-of-town last weekend. Cancerous tumors had ravaged his already challenged body, but he didn’t die alone. Mike was surrounded by his loving wife, and honored by the many students whose lives he touched. And since he lived keenly aware of his vulnerabilities, Mike may be one of the few people I’ve ever known to celebrate each day, playing practical jokes, savoring a good cup of coffee, and generously offering love to his friends and family.
Today, the world is a little less funny without my buddy Mike in it. But his is an easy life to celebrate, and he will never be forgotten.
How have you been filling your summer days?
I took an impromptu trip to Talkeetna, Alaska this weekend and stayed at a charming youth hostel there. I love the connections and conversations when I’m in a hostel, and caught up on reading and writing.
Here’s what caught my eye this weekend in the topics that matter to me:
How to Save Your Kids from Future Abusive Relationships– author Lois M.Collins draws a correlation between children who are bullied or bossed later becoming susceptible to becoming victims.
“Parents should help children build “extreme self-esteem.” Kids who see themselves as capable and loved more often avoid abuse.
Conversations with children about bullies and bossy friends can reinforce the idea that people don’t get to control others.”
International Child Abduction
New legislation to help victim-parents recover their kidnapped children has passed handily in the Senate.
The “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act,” designed to bolster the government’s ability to help parents rescue abducted children taken overseas, now goes to the House for approval.
(For those of you who don’t remember, David Goldman is the dad whose son was taken illegally to Brazil to live with his mother, who then subsequently died. Five years passed before David Goldman was able to reunite with his son.)
“As a parent, I cannot imagine the emotional toll of having a child abducted and taken abroad and feeling helpless to get your son or daughter back,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who introduced the bill with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “I encourage my colleagues in the House to act swiftly to protect our children.”
Author’s comment: As a parent of internationally abducted children, I can’t imagine that the government’s efforts towards anything other than kidnapping prevention will be useful. The government isn’t smart enough, rich enough, or powerful enough to manage such a complex issue. My past experience taught me the more government inserted itself, the more problematic finding solutions became. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Reuniting with Lost Family Members
Always my favorite subject, I love this story about a brother and sister reuniting after 50 years.
Their recognition of each other was immediate as they walked toward each other with open arms. After a long embrace, Roger leaned back and looked at Susan.
“She’s the best thing I ever saw,” he said, planting a brotherly kiss on the top of her head. “She was always my girl.”
And today, I listened to July’s podcast from the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) Roundtable event about PubSlush, the crowd-funding site specifically for writers. It’s an interesting concept that, according to their website, combines “a global crowdfunding and analytics platform for the literary world.”
If you’re a writer, or thinking about starting to write, do consider a membership at the NAMW. I learn something new every month. On the column to the right, you’ll find a link I have on my site. It was a great, yet modest investment!
Thanks for connecting with me.
What are you reading this season?
Even so, one of the best parts of any good season for me is enjoying a good book or two (or three).
These are a few of my favorite reads.
SWIMMING WITH MAYA- A Mother’s Story by Eleanor Vincent
A grieving mother finds hope and healing as she donates her daughter’s organs. The author has a gift for slowly recounting scenes until you feel as if you too were there. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard.
LICKING THE SPOON by Candace Walsh Part memoir and part cookbook, I loved meeting the author at a conference a year ago.
“If I’m ever a burden, I’ll just blow my brains out.” Famous last words from author Ariel Gore’s ailing mother, whose complicated life with her daughter morphed into a complicated death for her daughter.